Monthly Archives: January 2004

I will not object to writing lines. I will not object to writing lines.

The February 2nd issue of Maclean’s pours scorn on the concept of forcing students to write the same thing over and over again as a punishment. So, while its editors are writing “We will not put fictitious future dates on our publication” 100 times, allow me to explain why they are wrong.

Maclean’s “ScoreCard” praised “Donald Lucas: Gutsy Stirling, Ont. Grade 8er rebels at teacher’s order to write lines for not doing homework. Says tedious task ‘puts the mind into neutral.’ Instead, negotiates right to pen essay on the folly of writing lines. Smart kid, sure. Smart teacher, too.” And this very newspaper called his punishment “a mindless activity of repetition … not something a learning institution should be encouraging. A school, and a teacher, for that matter, should strive for knowledge.” They should. But knowledge comes in many forms and in many ways.

So let me tell you a tale. There was once this kid who spent years in a kind, nurturing school where they never made him do anything he didn’t want to do lest, say, correcting his spelling were to give him a low “self of steam.” If he disobeyed instructions he was rewarded with a really interesting assignment involving yet more impudence, and praised by the press. One day he graduated and got a job as an intern at a newspaper. But he was assigned a story he didn’t feel like doing. It would involve tedious phone calls and slogging around in bad weather talking to dull people with no post-graduate degrees at all. So he blew it off and, when reproached, sassed his editor. Continue reading

Stronach’s vacuity is not unique

It’s funny how Belinda Stronach’s entry into the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race fell flat. What’s wrong with a 314?

Huh? you say. Surely you know the one about the guy who visits his friend’s joke-lovers’ club and the members keep shouting out numbers and then everyone cracks up. His friend explains that they all know every joke so it’s more convenient just to number them. “Mind if I tell one?” he asks. His friend says “Sure,” so he shouts “314” but there’s dead silence. Then his friend explains “You didn’t tell it right.”

So there’s poor Ms. Stronach, fiscally conservative but socially liberal, relentlessly on-message, a personable outsider, and people accuse her of being shallow and clichéd. She’s also been accused of resorting to the gimmick of being a female kind of girl, so let’s deal with that one before baking a bigger pie of clichés. Continue reading

Please don’t hurt me, officer, I’m just writing a gardening column

You’ve got to hate it when 10 cops show up at your front door first thing in the morning and start rifling through your unmentionables looking for threats to national security. But it’s not going to happen to me, folks, ’cause I’m writing about daisies.

Yes, daisies. Aren’t they pretty? Bright yellow centres and nice white petals, unless the RCMP or CSIS have information to the contrary. I have no desire to discuss the subject with the Syrian government’s ministry of agriculture, department of horticulture and agonizing torment.

OK, there are a few things I probably should clarify. Looking back, I find that on Nov. 26 one of my columns inexplicably contained the words “the need for an inquiry into the Maher Arar case,” which in all honesty looks to me like a typo or perhaps a production error or something. I certainly did not intend as a result of any such remarks that I may have made that there should be an inquiry into me. Continue reading

Putting the public back into health

It is time the government did something about health care. No, not that. It should attend to the real field of public health.

Canada finally does have a minister of public health, Dr. Carolyn Bennett. Regrettably, she just told this newspaper: “I think, as governments, it is our moral responsibility to do whatever we can to help people stay healthy.” I do not know what political philosophy would justify such a dangerously open-ended statement. But even on the charitable assumption that it was mere bombast, it suggests a troubling lack of focus.

The proper concern of public health, a clear core responsibility of government, is diseases and conditions that pose health risks bystanders cannot control. I don’t want to get sidetracked here by the arguments about second-hand smoke that underlay her remarks; all that shouting about consensus, questioning of motives and proposals to meddle in the lives of vulgar persons is too characteristic of politics not science. Continue reading

I liked Mars better when it had canals instead of boring rocks

We’re off to see the Lakebed, the wonderful Lakebed of Mars. It will grant us wealth, culture, scientific insight and … Sorry, wrong movie. On Mars we will find an evil conspiracy to deprive the inhabitants of air, or a fabulous ancient canal-building civilization, or mudmen. Or, just possibly, yet another dull pile of rocks.

NASA gloated that the Spirit rover’s first pictures looked precisely the way scientists had expected a dry rock-strewn lakebed on Mars to look. Unfortunately, as Daily Show host Jon Stewart noted, they also looked precisely the way anyone else would have expected a dry rock-strewn lakebed on Mars to look. Indeed, he said, the Red Planet “practically reaches out to bore you.”

When I say such things my starry-eyed colleagues claim that had my timid views prevailed, Columbus would never have set sail and mankind would still be living in grass huts in eastern Africa. But wouldn’t the same argument apply to going to, say, Jupiter? Sure, it’s a giant ball of poisonous corrosive gases that doesn’t even have a “surface,” though if it did and you landed on it gravity would crush you. But hey, where’s your sense of adventure? I still I say if a caveman had looked out of his grass hut and seen that in the next valley it was raining concentrated, 900-degree Celsius sulphuric acid, beyond which lay a huge vacuum, it is prudence and not timidity that would have deterred him from an exploratory stroll. Continue reading